John Yoo, a former Department of Justice attorney who crafted legal memos authorizing the Bush administration’s notorious torture programs, will not have to face a lawsuit filed by Jose Padilla, an American citizen accused of terrorism who claims he was tortured while in U.S. military custody.
In a unanimous decision (PDF) Wednesday, three judges with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Yoo should be granted immunity because torture law was not fully settled in 2001-2003, when Yoo wrote the memos.
“[Although] it has been clearly established for decades that torture of an American citizen violates the Constitution, and we assume without deciding that Padilla’s alleged treatment rose to the level of torture, that such treatment was torture was not clearly established in 2001-03,” Judge Raymond C. Fisher wrote.
“For several years, Padilla and his attorneys have been harassing the government officials he believes to have been responsible for his detention and ultimately conviction as a terrorist,” Yoo told The Associated Press. “He has now lost before two separate courts of appeals, and will need to find a new hobby for his remaining time in prison.”
Padilla’s attorney claims that while in U.S. custody after returning from Egypt, his client suffered “extreme isolation, sensory deprivation, severe physical pain, sleep deprivation, and profound disruption of his sense and personality, all well beyond the physical and mental discomfort that normally accompanies incarceration.”
Such treatment bears the hallmarks of harsh interrogation techniques approved by then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and used by interrogators of other enemy combatants held at the Guantanamo Bay and Iraqi prisons.
Padilla was initially arrested in 2002 and charged with helping foster an al Qaeda “dirty bomb” plot, but he did not face any charges during the three and a half years he was in military custody.
When Padilla finally was indicted, the “dirty bomb” plot was not even mentioned. Bush officials instead charged him with participating in a terrorist conspiracy to “murder, maim and kidnap” people in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and other countries from 1993 to 2001.
Padilla was finally handed a 17-year prison sentence in 2008, although prosecutors had asked for life. The judge in that case noted there was no evidence that Padilla had ever maimed, murdered or killed anyone.
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